Touching a cold sore can spread the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) to other areas of the face and body. It can lead to a bacterial infection and complications. It’s the reason why fever blisters take longer to heal and why scarring can happen.

Although it seems natural to touch a cold sore with your fingers or tongue, it should be avoided (if possible). It’s not going to heal your open blisters any faster. If you’re more prone to outbreaks than other people, this is likely to be one of the main reasons why it’s happening.

You should only make contact with a cold sore when you’re applying a treatment, such as Abreva cream. This is necessary during the prodromal stage (when you notice a strange tingling feeling). When you’re done, you MUST wash your hands immediately. Don’t touch your chin, cheeks, near the eyes, your genital region, etc. until your hands have been thoroughly cleansed.

In this guide, you will find out more about the risks, when a cold sore is contagious, and how to stop the herpes virus from spreading.

What Happens If I Touch a Cold Sore with My Tongue?

Licking an active cold sore has the potential to spread the virus to the tongue. It’s uncommon, but it can happen.

Although spreading the herpes virus to the front of the tongue is rare (it’s far more likely to be a canker sore[1]), you still need to be careful.

Oral herpes is significantly more difficult to treat when it affects the tongue. It will also be more painful than cold sores near the mouth due to the regular consumption of hot and cold food.

Oral herpetic lesions are typically treated with oral antiviral medications.

Can Cold Sores Spread to Other Parts of My Body?

Cold sores can spread to the eyes, fingers, cheeks, chin, nose, and other areas. This is likely to be due to touching an active sore. You can also transfer the herpes virus during oral sex.

Although medications can treat cold sores that spread, the objective is always to keep all blisters quarantined. This is another reason why it is best to leave cold sores alone. Cold sores near the eyes and eyelids can have dangerous complications.

To recap:

  • Cold sores can spread. Areas such as the eyes, nose, cheek, tongue, and even genitals can be affected. This is often due to viral spreading. This is the act of touching an active sore and then contaminating other skin locations with the virus.
  • Fever blister spreading can be halted and treated. However, blisters that develop near the eyes (ocular herpes) is more dangerous. If you experience any of the symptoms, you should get a medical consultation with your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Note that “contagious” is not limited to the viral transfer to others. You can transfer the virus to other areas of your own body.

What to Do if you Kissed Someone With a Cold Sore

If you have kissed someone with a cold sore, the likelihood of viral transmission is high. Luck could be on your side, but the odds of contracting HSV-1 from a person with an active sore mean that it’s inadvisable.

It is only safe to kiss someone once the healing process has been fully completed. If your partner has an active sore, wait until the blister has gone away entirely and new skin has taken its place. Even testing the waters during the scab stage is not recommended. The virus should have cleared up completely within two weeks.

To summarize:

  • If you kiss someone with a cold sore, a transfer of the virus due to saliva-to-saliva and saliva-to-lip transfer is more likely.
  • If your partner has a cold sore, it is best to wait until the blister has gone away before kissing. Even the scab stage is contagious.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Cold Sore After Being Exposed?

Once the viral transfer has taken place, most people experience their first outbreak within two days to twelve days[3].

Because immediate transfer includes no symptoms, new HSV-1 carriers are often caught off guard when blister symptoms appear. Typically a tingling or burning sensation at the transfer location is the first sign of an impending issue.

Once lip tingling occurs, you need to begin treatment without delay. The quicker it is applied, the faster you’ll heal. While there is no way to halt the life cycle of a fever blister you can speed up the process. FDA-approved blister treatments, like Abreva cream, can heal sores within a matter of days.

Reasons why you should avoid touching a cold sore

To recap:

  • Once you are infected with HSV-1, you will likely experience your first cold sore outbreak within days. This typically happens no later than two weeks after the initial viral transfer.
  • The tingle/burning stage is the red flag symptom that you should heed. This is the first sign that you are about to start the cold sore life cycle. Applying treatment to the area at this time is essential. The sooner that a medicated cream or gel is used, the faster it will go away. This relief will not only speed up the healing process but reduce the other uncomfortable symptoms that might occur.

Can Cold Sores Develop an Infection?

Bacteria that enter the sore, usually due to touching, can lead to infection. Although infected cold sores can be treated, infections typically result in longer healing time. They can take up to a month or longer to heal.

In severe cases, blisters that are infected require professional medical treatment. Physicians often prescribe an antiviral medication to clear up the infection and expedite the healing process.

Infected fever blisters can also produce more intense symptoms. A headache, fatigue, nausea, and ear pain are not unusual. These symptoms are also quite similar to those who are in the midst of a primary cold sore outbreak.

To summarize:

  • Cold sores can become infected. Bacteria often enters the sore due to external manipulation. This can happen due to touching the area with hands or an object, such as a toothbrush or lipstick.
  • Fever blisters that are infected are often more painful and produce side effects away from the blister site. Infected sores are also more challenging to treat and can require professional medical attention. The introduction of an antiviral to eliminate the infection is a common practice.

When Are Cold Sores Not Contagious Anymore?

  • Important: Cold sores are no longer contagious once the scab has vanished and been replaced by new skin. While there is a myth that the scab stage marks the start of the non-contagious period that is not true.

While the ulcer stage is the most contagious, many people are infected during the prodromal and scab stage. This is partly due to the fact of not knowing an outbreak is underway and the notion that a scab prevents viral transfer.

To recap:

  • Once new skin has formed in place of the scab itself, you are no longer contagious. At this point, the virus will become dormant until it is triggered at a later time. There is no cure for cold sores, and some people are affected more often than others.
  • A cold sore continues to be contagious at the scab stage. The full healing process has not taken place. Just because the sore has been covered does not mean the sore is no longer active. The slightest crack to the scab can release fluid that is infected by HSV-1.

How to Stop a Cold Sore from Spreading

The easiest way to prevent viral spreading is to leave the cold sore alone (don’t touch it). Understanding the basics of fever blisters, when they are contagious, and how they spread can be helpful.

If you have an active blister is it critical to treat it and let the medication do the work. Additionally, it is important to tell others about your contagious state. An estimated 50-80% of everyone in the United States has HSV-1. Letting others know that you are contagious is essential if you have a partner, children, and close family living with you. Many people find it hard to bring up the subject of cold sores when dating.

The rule of the day is to fight your curiosity and refrain from touching a cold sore. Think of a cold sore as a hot stove. Touching the site of a cold sore comes at a price. If you stay away, you won’t spread the virus, and you’ll heal faster.

By applying an FDA approved OTC medicine at the first sign, your sore can be healed in days.


  1. Chronic or recurrent ulceration of the tongue, Vigarios E, de Bataille C, Campana F, Fortenfant F, Fricain JC, Sibaud V. Ann Dermatol Venereol. 2016 Apr;143(4):297-308; quiz 295-6, 309-10. doi: 10.1016/j.annder.2016.02.011.
  2. Betz D, Fane K. Herpetic Whitlow. [Updated 2018 Feb 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan-. Available from: